Agostino Perrone is the director of mixology at London’s Connaught Bar. Hospitality caught up with him ahead of his trip to Australia, where he spent World Bartender Day mixing martinis with the team from award-winning Sydney bar Maybe Sammy. Here, Perrone shares the experiences that have shaped his approach to bartending and what it’s like to play ‘coach’ to one of the world’s best bar teams.

I have always been passionate about photography, since I was about nine years old. My dream was to be a travel photographer. I finished school with the intention to pay for a photography degree myself. So, I started to work in this beautiful cafe bar in Lake Como. I was a 19-year-old-boy, interacting with entrepreneurs and business owners in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. They would tell me about their travel and experiences so I was already excited to work in this bar, because those interactions make your experience at work very rich.

Alongside that, I got to handle whisky, tequila and make cocktails. [That makes you] start to travel with you imagination; you want to go to Scotland, you want to go Mexico. All bartenders have some sort of creative gift. I’ve always been dreamer. I always wanted to travel and to discover new places and the cultures that make our world very beautiful.

In 2003, I came to London to deepen my knowledge and to get more hands on bartender skills, alongside discovering more about myself. I was 24-years-old and I was in London, the city that teaches you to find yourself or lose yourself — there is no middle way. So, my personal and professional journey started to take shape in London in 2003.

At the time, London was known for creativity, whereas New York was about classics thanks to Milk & Honey. Then, in 2006 I went to Montgomery Place, which was an absolutely magical bar in the heart of Notting Hill. There, we took the forgotten classics and gave them our modern interpretation using chef’s techniques and exotic flavours inspired by our travels. It was the place to be if you were coming to London. It sat between the modern and the classic, with a lot of personal touches involved.

I started to travel the world with Galliano to share a love of the product and of Italian hospitality. I became more connected with other countries and colleagues. That year I won Best UK bartender for Class magazine. It was a step up for my career.

In 2008 I was asked to take the role as head mixologist at the Connaught Bar. I took the challenge and decided to step into the hotel world, which was something completely new for me. I came from a different background, so it was a personal challenge and a career challenge.

When they decided to reopen the Connaught Bar, they had a strong vision. It was not to follow trends, but to make the trends. The vision was to have a creative cocktail bar in a classic hotel. Up until this stage, there was a distinction. Hotel bars were known for classic service, elegance and attention to detail. They wanted to step up the game at The Connaught and have a serious cocktail bar like you have a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Six years ago, Giorgio Bargiani and Maura Milia started to work with us. Giorgio started as the bar back and Maura started as a casual waitress. Thanks to their commitment, how they embraced the vision and their personality, the Connaught Bar started to take even more shape to step up to where we are today.

So is not just me driving the work ethic. I’m at the helm of a solid team with different personalities and different characteristics. We need to be able to understand whose strength is where and make them stronger. And [figure out] how they can balance each other’s weaknesses as well. Now we can grow together as a family, with a very genuine work ethic that isn’t focused only on money — otherwise you lose all the romance. It’s not being the captain; it’s being a coach.

How we take the simplicity [of classic cocktails] to an emotional level is something that cannot be achieved in one day and cannot be achieved just with creativity. It’s a journey, it’s a way of thinking and a way of working that you need to be committed to. Sometimes, the creative ideas that we have need to be distilled down and we need to convey them with interesting storytelling in liquid form — that’s the cocktail.

Image credit: Niklas Halle’n

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